HEJE Overview 7-24-17: Education

Quote of the Day

“The ALEC report card is the direct opposite of the Network for Public Education report card, which graded states in relation to their support for public schools. ALEC’s #1 state, Arizona, received an F. ALEC’s #51 state, Nebraska, came in second in the nation.”

–Diane Ravitch

We have a problem here.


  • Peter Greene over at Curmudgucation annotates a piece in Forbes by two law professors on why we should get rid of teacher certification

Greene identifies 18 “dumb things” the authors managed to say in a short article whose main point was to argue in favor of dropping teacher certification as a K-12 teaching requirement. In order to attract “better” (?) teachers, it’s necessary to lower the bar … because raising it through other methods, like paying teachers a professional salary for professional work or making certification/teacher education more demanding, haven’t proven effective..

We want to expand the pool of teachers from whom schools draw, but not by paying more or elevating teachers’ prestige); licensing barriers create acute shortages in math and science, in poor neighborhoods, and in schools with a large percentage of minority students (presumably, ELLs), because there could be no other reasons that make it hard to recruit teachers in these subjects/environments.

(Quotes from the original piece in bold)

Any comparison to other professions doesn’t count becauseDoctors and lawyers are also hired by people not competent to judge their performance. No such protection against bad teachers is needed because they are hired not by individuals but by experienced administrators. 

Um, doctors tend to be hired by other doctors, and lawyers, at least those in group practices and large organizations, tend to be hired by other lawyers. Where this is not the case, they too tend to be hired by “experienced” administrators.

We’re not sure this is the best way of distinguishing the profession of teaching from those of law and medicine as a means of arguing that teachers don’t need certification—after all, it’s not who’s hiring you that matters, it’s whether you’ve got the knowledge and training for the actual profession itself—administrators are not students, patients, or clients.

“The biggest barrier to improving teacher quality is therefore union contracts that block such selective retentions and, with lock step pay, eliminate success-based compensation.”

Well, we know that one was coming: unions bad, right-to-work good.

Truth be told, incumbents like licensing because it reduces competition from entrants, keeps incomes high, and raises the status. Why else require florists, manicurists, or auctioneers to get licenses to cut flowers, nails, or deals. Do you really need 300 hours of supervised training to shampoo hair safely (in Tennessee)? Or seven years of training to be an interior designer (in DC)?”

What are the authors doing, comparing teaching to auctioneering? But we love it when truth is told.

“American higher education (we observed) is world class in ways that American primary and secondary education are not. Yet university faculty members are not certified to teach.”

And we say that it’s a darn shame they’re not: generations of university students have suffered for it, receiving higher degrees in spite of, and not because of, the teaching skills of many faculty, both tenured (now rapidly becoming the exception) and adjunct.

Greene highlights plenty of other weaknesses in the authors’ arguments, but since they were only trying to make one point—let’s get rid of K-12 certification requirements and let anybody who can breathe teach—each of their points can be refuted separately without affecting the article’s goal: “…And it [getting rid of certification] offers the best hope of bringing more capable people into the teaching that all agree is so vital.”

As Greene notes, “Somehow by lowering standards, lowering pay, destabilizing pay, and removing job security, we will attract more of them and flush them out.”

Yep, sounds like a plan.

  • If you want to turn around a public school system, consider Buffalo

It takes more than money to reverse the trends in a city like Buffalo, but it also takes plenty of money. A NYC non-profit has been bankrolling the program “Say Yes to Education Buffalo” since 2012, and the results to date (five years in) are impressive: the city’s high school graduation rate has risen to 64%–its highest in a decade.

“…black and Latino students have seen the most dramatic improvements, significantly narrowing the graduation gap with their white peers. According to Say Yes, it has awarded roughly 4,000 tuition scholarships, and the number of Buffalo schools classified as ‘in good standing’ by the state’s education department has almost doubled since 2012, from 11 to 20.”

Say Yes awards full tuition scholarships to all graduates, but in order to help students make it to graduation, it also offers a long list of in-school support services throughout their high school years, including “support specialists …, access to medical and dental care, mental health counseling and legal clinics, plus after-school enrichment activities, college-readiness programs and mentoring; it provides students’ parents with job-readiness workshops and referrals to housing services.”

That’s a lot of services–all necessary–but they don’t come cheap.

“Say Yes launched its Buffalo chapter by bringing in $15 million in seed funding to create the tuition scholarship fund. But, with an eye toward local accountability and sustainability, the program demanded that the bulk of the heavy lifting, both financial and strategic, be done through a collaboration among city and education officials, community organizations, civic groups and local philanthropy.”  The goal: $100 million to fund the scholarship program in perpetuity.

“As a result of Say Yes Buffalo partnerships, 11 district schools currently have on-site full-service health clinics; a mobile health clinic program is set to launch next fall. And 52 of the district’s 59 buildings provide in-school access to mental health services. Say Yes also credits its partnerships for a K-6 summer camp program that served 2,500 students in 2016.”

“’What made this opportunity special,’ [Samuel] Radford (president of the Buffalo Schools District Parent Coordinating Council) said, ‘was that it was for everybody. Usually what causes disunity in the community are the class differences, the race differences, the socio-economic differences. So now all of a sudden you have something that doesn’t separate us because it’s really for everybody … which is a game-changer.’”

Indeed. Entitlements of all types are more popular, and some become wildly popular when universalized: think of Social Security, Medicare … single-payer (in other countries, of course). A program like Say Yes – Buffalo will need enormous amounts of district, state, and private donor funds to remain viable. But this approach—to see students as members of larger systems, and to acknowledge that all parts of the system must be addressed to ensure a child gets to college—is extremely promising, inspiring even.

  •  Philadelphia’s Boys’ Latin Charter School: Attrition is a “beautiful thing”

The Boys’ Latin Charter School was recently featured on a segment of “Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly,” (July 9) which was devoted to the charter-versus-public school fight. Boys’ Latin, as its name suggests, is only for boys and features Latin, in addition to very long school days, uniforms, and strict discipline (its CEO, David Hardy, compared it to military boot camp). Admission is now by lottery (a fairly recent change from an application-interview system), and the school has achieved in its 10-year history a college admissions rate double that of black males in the Philadelphia school system as a whole (90% vs. 45%).

But Boys’ Latin has a feature not highlighted in the 10-minute segment on NBC: each year, it “sheds” about a third of each of its classes, and it neither backfills (drawing students from the waiting list) nor admits new students in the fall to make up the difference. Attrition becomes permanent, and thus it graduates between 55% and 64% of each of entering classes.

Another feature of Boys’ Latin (and many other charters): there are no English Language Learners (ELLS), who cost more to educate and tend to depress test score averages.

Furthermore, Boys’ Latin has managed to do millions of dollars’ worth of fund-raising, amounting to several thousand dollars a year more per student than the Philadelphia public school system spends on each of its own students.

A high attrition rate is the price the school is willing to pay for stellar college entrance stats. But what about all those who are not admitted? Their fates—and they are by far the majority—are sealed in public schools which have been chronically underfunded for years.

  • Jennifer Berkshire sums up the state of play between ALEC/the Secretary of Education, and their opponents (some of whom are new)

“One of the great questions of our time is just how far to the fringe the right wing of the Republican Party can march before the business-minded set steps in and yanks the chain. ALEC’s education platform is providing a real-time test case.”

“In Arizona, which ranks 48th in the country in education spending, business leaders recently announced that they plan to press for a big boost for the state’s schools, including raising teacher salaries. The state that topped ALEC’s education ranking has a teacher shortage so severe that schools are hiring teachers who lack any qualifications at all, even college degrees.”

Arizona got stellar marks, however, from ALEC’s latest “Report Card on American Education.” Arizona’s high school graduation rate was a dismal 63%, but that doesn’t influence their report card (B+); Illinois, alas, with an 86% graduation rate, got a C (no vouchers), while Massachusetts, with an 89% graduation rate, also received a C (no vouchers, high regulatory burden on homeschooling).

“The theme of this year’s state Report Card was the underfunding myth: ‘exposing the lack of a connection between funding increases and student performance.’” [emphasis added]

ALEC—and the Secretary of Education, as their designated representative—see “a future where parents are freed—from the education monopoly, from regulation, from greedy unions, and most importantly, from schools—to navigate an education marketplace that abounds in choices.”

The Secretary is something of an ALEC heroine, given the success of efforts (largely funded by the Secretary and her husband’s fortunes) to realize a “decades-long dream and a top priority for the DeVos family: not only did they succeed in making Michigan, the cradle of industrial unionism, a right-to-work state, they also killed teacher pensions.”

“ALEC’s agenda for remaking public education in all 50 states can be distilled down to a single word: unpopular. Actually, make that two words: extremely unpopular. There is no constituency for blowing up the schools, swelling class sizes, replacing teachers with tablets and lowering the standards of who can teach.”

Well, there is a constituency for all the above—it’s just not the American people who form it.

If navigating “an education marketplace that abounds in choices” sounds a whole lot like “navigating an unregulated insurance market free of Essential Health Benefits”, there’s a reason.

About that “less is more” trope: see link above on Buffalo’s Say Yes program; see link above on Philadelphia’s Boys’ Latin Charter School.

Money matters, as any self-respecting billionaire knows (see following link)

  • Jim Hightower weighs in on the privatization of public schools (and everything else)

Fun factoid concerning the late June meeting hosted in Colorado Springs at the Broadmoor (owner: Philip Anschultz), which gathered together some 400 of the country’s wealthiest citizens of conservative persuasion. Invitees paid $100,000 each to attend the three-day meeting ($33,333 per day), with the goal of collecting $400 million towards the 2018 elections.

Who said “less is more”?


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